Where is your focus?

FocusAs you may (or may not) know, I am a secondary-trained teacher who presently have the honour and privilege to be in and out of classrooms of all levels in my role as technology activator. With a wife who is primary-trained and like to remind me (intentionally or by the mastery of her practice when I have had the opportunity to see her teach) of how well primary teachers are prepared to work with students, I have developed a deep respect for my colleagues in primary.

The difference

Lately I have come to the realisation that there seems to be a major difference between primary and secondary education: primary education tends to be student-focused and secondary education tends to be subject-focused (yes, I know it is a generalisation). Some of my secondary colleagues will object to this statement, so please allow me to give three reasons for my observation:

  1. In all honesty, as a secondary-trained teacher, I loved my subject area long before I decided that I wanted to become a teacher. Us secondary folk can’t help ourselves: we gush about the beauty and marvelous complexities of our preferred subject area. Now don’t get me wrong: this is important and I don’t know of any principal who wants to employ a secondary teacher who is not excited about her or his subject area. However, I believe there is a danger that I can become so subject-focused that I forget about the individuals that I teach and their stories.
  2. Secondary school subjects have been taught in relative isolation for years, or “siloed” as some educational futurists like to say. How much time do we make to talk to each other and learn to appreciate each other’s subjects? I believe this only reinforces the subject-focused mindset in secondary teachers and prevents us from becoming more student-focused. Imagine being a student in the middle of all of this “unconnected” competition for attention …
  3. Primary teachers in New Zealand don’t just look at the achievement of a student in one learning area (except perhaps if you are a specialist), but they tend to have a good grasp of a student’s overall progress and achievement. Secondary teachers seldom have this level of insight. I think this enables our primary colleagues to truly be more student-focused.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that because of the individualistic (“single focus“) love we have for our subject areas and the “siloed” operation of the secondary school system, secondary teachers risk the danger of unintentionally competing against each other instead of recognising that we are all part of a team. As members of a team we have different roles to play and these roles are essential for the team to succeed.

I am also of the opinion that innovative learning environments encourage teachers to develop a “team” mindset whereas the “cell-based” architecture of the industrial model of education discourages it. I have taught in single cell classrooms for years but now spend most of my teaching time in innovative learning environments. I have detected a major shift in how much more I value my colleagues as team members. I need to dust off some of OECD’s research on the topic …

By the way, I am sure I am not the first person making this comment and if you have any research on the topic, please leave a comment with a link to the research.

The impact of special character

I am a staff member of a special character school. Our special character is founded on the Bible. The Bible teaches very clearly that we (followers of Jesus) are part of a “team” called the church. Paul describes the church as the “body of Christ”1 and just as the human body has many parts with special functions that are essential for the functioning of the body as a whole, so the members of this team each have a special role to play that contributes to the healthy functioning of the church.

In the book of Mark2 we read …

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’

I believe God encourages us to see ourselves as members of a team who are not in competition with each other, but who all have specific roles of service that contribute to a student-focused vision of our school. We need God’s help to accomplish this!

Jesus went on to say3

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’

I want to welcome Jesus. How about you?

Photo credit: UnknownNet Photography via Foter.com / CC BY-SA


  1. Blom, B.J. The problem of fame. Retrieved 28 August 2016 from http://www.disciplinedlife.info/?p=456
  2. Mark 9:33-35 NIVUK. Retrieved on 28 August 2016 from https://www.bible.com/bible/113/MRK.9.33-35
  3. Mark 9:36-37 NIVUK. Retrieved on 28 August 2016 from https://www.bible.com/bible/113/MRK.9.36-37


Where is your focus? — 4 Comments

  1. Thank you for your thought-provoking message Barend. There is an old comment leveled at times to describe some individuals: “He is a jack of all trades but a master of none”. I think that implies that when we become good at everything we can never be excellent at anything.
    Do I hear you saying that we can be excellent and expert in specific areas of our lives through dedicated focus, commitment and letting go of that “which so easily entangles us“ and still be part of a wider team?

  2. Barend, you allude to a number of profound shifts that we are part of in education. Sometimes I think that the variables and complexities in education are far more than commentators from outside fully appreciate. I agree that the shift from single cell to variable and collaborative space is a game changer and similarly the ‘de-siloing’ of subject at the high school level is massive! The bible is profound in its description of us all being part of one body but each with distinctly different functions and roles. I believe this is one of the keys we need to delve into again in truly advancing a team based, highly collaborative and focused learning environment. To truly know our ‘sweet-spot’, to know how each of us function best, to build real understanding of and commitment to collegiality, to unpack koinonia again….all of this will help to transform what we do. You are so right when you hint at and allude to how individualistic we have become – because I believe and have spoken of this – that one of the keys to developing a team of capable future-focused leaders here at Elim Christian College is the ability, willingness and motivation for an individual to first and foremost know and really behave that they know life is fundamentally not about them! Time to lift our heads up out of our navel, work on some emotional intelligence – get empathetic and passionate about how generosity – ‘a pay-it-forward’ disposition – a disposition of ‘service and blessing’ and an unwillingness to be offended can change our office, classroom, learning space, department, team, campus, school and the world!

    • Thank you Murray for your most encouraging, wise response. I am inspired!

      This morning I read Joseph’s conversation with Pharaoh when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. He responded to Pharaoh “‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied …, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’ and the thought that came to mind was “humility comes before honour”.

      And then Pharaoh responded after Joseph explained the dream, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’ I was reminded of Zechariah’s words to Zerubbabel, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.” When we pursue an attitude of humility, the Holy Spirit gets the glory.

      This goes against everything in popular culture. We need God’s help to be different.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond Murray.


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